Technology makes our lives simpler, keeps us informed, connected and entertained. We are constantly surrounded by it, and we always carry our mobile devices with us wherever we go on holiday, to the market or even to the kitchen to grab a quick snack. As such, our relationship with technology has changed dramatically over the years, evolving into a quasi-symbiosis. This isn’t valid only for the average Joe that you see walking down the street humming his favourite tune that is magically transmitted through invisible wires to his headphones.
Businesses, organizations, international corporations and governments all share an intimate relationship with technology, often acting as the players who break the ice and introduce new and innovative technology into circulation. But let’s face it, whether we are talking about everyday users or corporate managers, it’s much easier to enjoy the benefits of a technology than understanding the ins and outs of the technology per se.
This approach is embraced by Modex for its trademark Blockchain Database (BCDB) solution that combines blockchain, a technology highly coveted for its ability to disrupt a wide range of processes and business sectors, with traditional databases, a core element found in every business application. By hiding the complex inner workings of blockchain behind the familiarity and ease of use of a database system, the technological layer developed by Modex delivers the best features and functionalities of both technologies in a well-crafted package that is easy to deploy in existing applications and IT infrastructures.
Modex BCDB works by storing data the old fashioned way in a database, but comes with an additional technological twist, storing a reference of that data into a blockchain. This way, Modex augments the functionality of a traditional database system with blockchain features like data integrity, immutability, traceability, transparency and decentralization, to create a technology layer capable of delivering certifiable trust to companies and businesses regarding their data.
The target audience
Modex BCDB was designed to offer certifiable trust to any company, organization or business that needs to be extra vigilant with its sensitive data. The data integrity and immutability provided by the blockchain layer of the BCDB solution plays a key role in securing valuable data records. With flexibility on its side, the technology developed by Modex can ensure the protection of sensitive records at rest, when data is stored, or while in transit between multiple business partners that exchange information. Moreover, the Blockchain Database layer isn’t limited only to the enterprise sector.
Modex has leveraged its technology in multiple proofs of concept that focus on rebuilding trust and ownership of data. One example is PatientDataChain, a proof of concept that uses the Blockchain Database solution to create a patient-centric data ecosystem where ownership and control of data are in the hands of the patients who can decide who can access their information. Generally speaking, the BCDB solution is suited in any data security scenario, where sensitive information needs to be monitored and protected from unauthorized modification.
Is Modex BCBD suited for any organization that relies on a database for its daily operations? Yes and no. In the realm of technology, the idea of a one fit all solution is wishful thinking because every technology comes with overhead costs and requirements. Theoretically, every company can benefit from the BCDB technological stack, but unless the company or business in question has a viable use case that would benefit from the blockchain-based functionalities and features facilitated by Modex BCDB, the answer would be no. Modex offers enhanced data protection and can augment any data storage system, but if the business logic of an application does not require data immutability and data integrity, it wouldn’t make sense to add the additional overhead.
Modex BCDB underneath the hood
Modex BCDB is an application that intervenes in the development stack by positioning itself between the database and the existing application server. The two main components of the BCDB framework are the database and blockchain engine. At the moment of writing, the BCDB solution is integrated with the Tendermint and Hyperledger Sawtooth blockchains.
At the database level, Modex BCDB can use MongoDB, Elasticsearch and CouchDB, with multiple integrations underway. In addition, the technology developed by Modex can “listen” to SQL Server databases, through the Modex Agent, a Windows service designed to track any modifications and operations that take place in an SQL Server database. The Modex Agent needs to be configured by the beneficiary what segments of the database to monitor.
One technology, multiple implementation options
From an implementation standpoint, Modex BCDB can be split into two categories: embedded and integrated.
In the embedded implementation type, Modex BCDB takes a minimally invasive approach to the client’s application logic. As a general rule, every application has a frontend, a backend and a database component. In the embedded implementation paradigm, Modex BCDB intervenes at the application server layer of the backend by rerouting a series of connectors from the database to the BCDB solution. These connectors are important because they will determine what segment of the client’s database will benefit from the advantages of blockchain technology. As such, only sensitive or valuable business data is advised to pass through the BCDB layer. Once this connection is established, whenever the beneficiaries introduce new data into their database component that is monitored by Modex BCDB, a signature of that data will also be replicated and stored on the blockchain. This is the standard iteration of the Blockchain Database solution.
The second implementation option, the integrated approach differs drastically from the first variant because Modex BCDB does not attach itself to the client’s application server. Clients aren’t required to make any changes to their applications. In this implementation option, the Modex Agent takes on an integral role because it is attached to the beneficiary’s database to monitor and replicate any changes made into the BCDB layer. Additional useful information is added to the data that is replicated in Modex BCDB like the date and time of the modification, and the database user who made it. Because Modex BCDB no longer connects to the client’s database, it acts as a separate data ecosystem that has its own database and blockchain. This approach enables Modex BCDB to provide data immutability and integrity, without connecting to the application server of the client. The downside to this approach is that Modex BCDB no longer acts as a gatekeeper to the data introduced in the client’s database, meaning that the single source of truth is represented by the beneficiary’s database. The Blockchain Database solution no longer checks if data was modified by an authorized user or by a malicious actor.
Modex BCDB can be used on-prem, but it is also available as an IaaS offering on the Microsoft Azure Marketplace. The difference between on-prem and IaaS implementation revolves around the idea of control. In an on-prem scenario, the beneficiary holds the entire infrastructure on his premise and has full control and ownership. When used as an IaaS offering, ownership is more dynamic, usually split between the beneficiary and the service provider.
A growing list of functionalities and features
As a solution that focuses primarily on protecting sensitive data records, and ensuring trust that the information stored in the system is authentic, Modex BCDB comes with an extensive list of functionalities and features centred on data:
- Storage – pretty self-explanatory, data storage is the recording of information. In Modex BCDB, data is stored in a database and its references are stored in a blockchain network
- Encryption – is the process of encoding plaintext into a format so that it can be read or used only by certain individuals, usually the recipient of the encrypted message. Encryption uses an algorithm to scramble or encrypt plaintext. Modex BCDB allows users to encrypt data both at the database and at the blockchain level. Decryption can be performed only by authorized users.
- Permissions – Modex BCDB comes with a granular access permission and data ownership mechanism. In the Blockchain Database ecosystem, each data entry has a clear owner who has full control. Owners can encrypt their data, grant permissions to other users to read or write data in their name. This feature is especially useful in a patient-doctor scenario, where doctors need explicit permission from the patient to be able to read and modify their health records.
- Synchronization policies – depending on the configuration, users can generate explicit data synchronization policies which represent a type of permission for data nodes. For example, a user can synchronize all the data of tables created in July to create a consistent data entry. Data synchronization provides a means of creating harmony and consistency among all the systems that have access to data. In a classical blockchain architecture data nodes are primarily categorized as full and partial. Full nodes store an entire copy of the blockchain network, while partial nodes store only a portion of that data. In the Modex BCDB ecosystem, these labels have been removed and replaced with synchronization rules which dictate what and how much data is synchronized to a node or a series of nodes. If a node is left without any synchronization rule, it will act as a full node and copy the entire data.
- Subnetworks – subnetworks are networks inside a network that make organizing data easier and more efficient. Using the synchronization policy functionality, users can create multiple subnetworks that synchronize data between them. For example, you can create a subnetwork for medical equipment that is destined for the same hospital. Data is synchronized in subnetworks selectively, based on a mini-rules engine through which users can configure the synchronization rules.
- Integrity check – the BCDB system periodically checks the integrity of its data records. By comparing the signature stored in the blockchain network with the ones present in the database, Modex BCDB can easily determine if a record was tampered with. When the watchdog function is activated, Modex BCDB periodically checks the integrity of data records. Users also have the option to perform manual integrity checks.
- Data reconstruction – if an integrity check fails, the Blockchain Database system will reconstruct the data record by pulling the information from other nodes.
- Files – beneficiaries can store any type of file in the BCDB ecosystem. As an application primarily focused on answering the data-related needs of the business and enterprise sector, Modex BCDB stores mostly electronic documents such as invoices, audit documents, medical records, etc.
- Store to blockchain – by default, the BCDB solution stores data into its database component and a reference of that data into the blockchain, but beneficiaries also have the option to store data directly into the blockchain. Similar to the data stored in the database component, data stored directly in the blockchain can be encrypted and decrypted when needed by users who have permission.
- GraphQL – Graphic Query Language is a programming language that has been integrated into the BCDB framework to make it easier for frontend developers to work with the Modex ecosystem.
- Workbench – a web application that streamlines the beneficiary’s interaction with the BCDB framework. In the workbench, users can monitor the Blockchain Database ecosystem, implement custom configurations, manage permissions, data synchronization policies, subnetworks and other administrative tasks.
- Block explorer – as the name implies, the block explorer is a component that allows users to examine what information is stored at the blockchain level.
- Events – a notification mechanism that triggers when certain actions occur in the system, for example, a failed integrity check. Users can choose multiple notification options like email or SMS.
With a unique set of characteristics and features, Modex BCDB delivers a set of data-related benefits that extend not only to the beneficiary of the Modex technological layer but also to their end customers and business partners.
- Certifiable trust – Modex BCDB elevates the concept of trust to a whole new dimension. Trust no longer requires people to place their faith in the ability of companies to safeguard their valuable data. With the Blockchain Database solution, trust is guaranteed by technology.
- Enhanced data protection & secure data sharing – with blockchain technology at its core, Modex BCDB creates a highly secure ecosystem for sharing and storing data. Security is further strengthened by the complex layer of encryption offered by the Modex platform. The flexibility of the encryption system enables beneficiaries to encrypt all the data entries or only certain fields from a table. As an append-only structure, data cannot be deleted once it has been passed to the blockchain, making it immutable.
- Improved data accuracy – Modex BCDB removes the need to manually enter data into a shared ledger or exchange information through methods susceptible to human error (email, screen sharing, etc.).
- Efficient data reconciliation and audit – integrating multiple database systems and software applications with a blockchain backend facilitates a better flow of information and a higher degree of transparency and trust in data. Transparency generates traceability and accountability, while data trust is guaranteed by the complex technological layer facilitated by the BCDB solution. These two features consolidate and streamline a clients’ internal operational flow. In a multi-party system, trust and transparency creates cohesion and improves cooperation on data.
- Complete data ownership – companies that store their data on the BCDB platform are in complete control and the indisputable owners of the data they add into the platform. As such, they can decide who, when, and how their data can be accessed within the ecosystem.
- Data privacy – trust is a fundamental value guaranteed by Modex’s blockchain component. Paired together with the access control mechanisms built in the Modex BCDB solution, the newly created ecosystem ensures that data can be accessed only by authorized users.
Innovate, implement, repeat
As with any technology stack that brings real-world value, there is always room for improvement and fine-tuning. The team behind Modex BCDB is constantly working to develop new functionalities, and features to make the Blockchain Database solution able to answer the most relevant data related needs on the market. Two new features are already in development: data archiving and data pruning which aims to prevent any potential issues related to the amount of data stored in the blockchain.
Because data is replicated among multiple nodes in the network, it can in time lead to the accumulation of large amounts of data that can burden the network. With the new data archiving functionality, the BCDB solution will be able to compress and significantly reduce the space required for older records. When the data is needed, a user with sufficient permissions will be able to unzip the archived information and use it. For those of you who aren’t amateur horticulturists, pruning is the removal or reduction of parts of a plant, tree, or vine that are not necessary for growth or production or are no longer visually pleasing. Transposing this concept to a data-related context, pruning entails the deletion of some segments of data records from BCDB to save space.
Another new addition to the Modex BCDB technology will be a bulk insert, update and delete mechanism which aims to simplify and significantly reduce the time required to introduce large data records into the system.
Work is also underway concerning technological partnerships. 2020 marked the beginning of important partnerships with Microsoft and UiPath. As a sneak peek, Modex is also exploring new digital identification technologies which will take the shape of a new integration with Selfd.id.